In September, the Board of Trustees traveled to Hawaiʻi Island for the final scheduled neighbor island meeting of the year. As part of our scheduled presentations on the agenda, OHA was able to receive an update from various community members, among them Robert Agres, who gave us an update on the important and invaluable work that Hawaiʻi County has been doing as their communities continue their recovery from the Puna lava flows last year.
As with other OHA meetings, we also had the opportunity to hear from individual beneficiaries from the community who came to share their manaʻo with us. The Hawaiʻi Island community showed up in strong force at both OHA’s evening Community Meeting in Pāhala, as well as during our morning Board of Trustees meeting in Hilo. Concerns ranged from those advocating for local community centers, to subsistence farming, to care of significant cultural sites, and the prevention of further development on the island. Concerns regarding the mismanagement of Maunakea topped that list.
Receiving manaʻo directly from beneficiaries is a vital tool that allows OHA to do the advocacy work we do. As a grassroots advocate myself, I am always encouraged by beneficiaries raising their concerns with their leaders. We are seeing trying times for our lāhui in communities across the State. But testimony, petitions, social media and demonstrations are not the end-all-be-all way to make our voices heard.
As of this month, we are exactly one year out from the 2020 elections. For Hawaiʻi, and especially for Native Hawaiians, this is the most important election cycle we will ever see. Our State and local-level elections should be of great significance to the change we need to effect.
We need to encourage civic participation amongst our ʻohana, our friends, our neighbors. To register to vote; to makaʻala on the issues. To support those who support us. And to become the change we wish to see, if necessary, to become candidates ourselves. Decision makers need to know the mana that the Native Hawaiian community holds. Native Hawaiians have the capability to possess so much power in the 2020 elections.
Although I have written this in the past, and urged more engagement in the voting booths, every day that goes by we see firsthand that our voices, through votes, are becoming more and more crucial to the future of everything that makes Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi. In order to mālama our ʻāina, our wai, our way of life, we need to rise to a level of influence to which our community has not been given recognition in a while.
I have high hopes for what we can accomplish by this time next year, twelve months from now. Our future depends on it. This is my kāhea to all of you. From here on out, Native Hawaiians need to be a formidable voting bloc. We need to be acknowledged as the centerpiece of decision-making in our own ancestral homelands, the leaders and decision makers our kūpuna have always known us to be. We have already been consistently doing this advocacy in our civic clubs, in hālau, in our homestead associations, and even at the backyard family pāʻina. It’s time to take this engagement and advocacy to decision centers.
Princess Pauahi once said, “There will come times when to make this stand will be difficult, especially to you of Hawaiian birth. But conquer you can, if you will.”
Kū haʻaheo e kuʻu Hawaiʻi. I mana ka leo. There is power in your voice.